Friday, January 31, 2014

On the Homefront: 2014 Chinese Year of the Horse Table

I got this Ming Horse Yixing Teapot when we lived in Colorado,
I think from The Cupboard in Fort Collins, which is one of my
all-time favorite stores.  Fishes, like the ones on the tray, are
very auspicious symbols for the New Year as they represent
abundance or surplus.  A pair of fishes also symbolizes harmony
and happiness in marriage!

All month long my Wish List Wednesday posts have been centered around equine items for the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year on January 31st, which is a Year of the Horse.  Well, the day has finally arrived and here is my horse-themed table to celebrate!  I have been collecting all sorts of horse décor for the table lately.  It all started last summer when I found a lovely vintage tablecloth at a local flea market.  The design features a pattern of gentleman and lady equestrians in shades of blue and white:

Gentleman and lady equestrians on my vintage tablecloth
(if you look really closely at the latter image you can make
out the pattern on my new Running Horses flatware)

Next I came across a set of four vintage Hadley "Blue Horse" dessert plates on the Eclectica Gallery website, and I just had to have them (these plates are still being made -- check out this site for the horse pattern and more):

The inevitable color scheme for my table was blue and white, of course!  I gathered together all sorts of horsey items from around the house to add to the setting, and here is the result:

Vintage blue and white equestrian tablecloth from a local flea market; dark blue placemat (can't remember where I got them, and I actually used the back side of these placemats instead of the shinier jacquard pattern front side, similar to these); white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); vintage Hadley "Blue Horse" dessert plate from Eclectica Gallery; Running Horses Flatware from; white teacup and saucer (Tivoli by Studio Nova); blue water goblet I think from Target years ago.

Red is considered a lucky color in China, especially for the
New Year, so I had to include at least a touch of it on the table
(I just poured some red colored sugar around my candle
centerpiece); I have a collection of tiny horse figurines that I
placed around the candle as well.

A few of my horse collectibles (and a donkey!) are displayed
at one end of the table -- large horse head plate by Karen
Donleavy Designs; vintage white ceramic horse with teak
spreaders (mid-century Japan) bought decades ago in Ithaca, NY;
vintage Hoya crystal horse wine coaster (Japan) purchased a long
time ago I think in Puerto Rico; white ceramic donkey creamer
from the Peppercorn in Boulder, CO, years ago.

I just love this little guy!
(from Etsy)

A horse or zebra teapot (I'm not sure which animal it is!)
by Cordon Bleu (from TJMaxx/HomeGoods ages ago) joins a
bowl of lucky gold coins (actually foil-wrapped chocolate gelt
left over from Thanksgivvukah) on a blue and white cranes trivet
at the opposite end of the table.  According to Chinese tradition,
coins are symbols of prosperity while cranes symbolize longevity.
The word for teapot sounds similar to the words for "protect"
and "blessing" in Chinese.

There are quite a few food customs and taboos for the Chinese New Year celebration dinner.  A Tray of Togetherness is put out for guests before the meal.  This tray consists of eight snacks (eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers, as are most even numbers except four, which symbolizes death).  However, some of the traditional snacks served in China can be hard to find here, so I decided to improvise.  Since sweets are plentiful at Chinese New Year feasts because they represent a sweet life in the coming year, I added several sweet selections to my tray.  Red jelly beans stand in for red melon seeds, whose color signifies joy, happiness, and truth.  Traditional peanuts (representing long life) make an appearance as the chocolate-covered variety, and coconut-flavored M&Ms replace coconut (meaning togetherness).  I couldn't find candied melon, but dates are also considered lucky so I substituted them instead.  Though they probably have no significance at all in China, cashew nuts stand in for lychee nuts on my tray, and almonds for lotus seeds ( I just hope that they are not considered unlucky!).  I had no kumquats or longans (the latter are related to lychee nuts), so I used dried cherries and blueberries, and my tray was complete.

My version of the Tray of Togetherness.

A whole fish is considered a lucky meal, but I can't abide my food staring up at me, so I opted not to include this dish!  I could and did, however, include long greens (Sesame Green Beans) and long noodles (Shrimp Lo Mein).  Cutting whole or long foods into pieces is considered unlucky, as this implies decreasing one's longevity.  Steamed Dumplings (jiaozi), which are thought to resemble precious metal ingots, are eaten to ensure future prosperity.  A sweet New Year Cake (nian gao) is traditional and symbolizes the achievement of new heights in the coming year.  Tangerines and oranges are also thought to be propitious as the words for these fruits sound similar to the ones for luck and gold (wealth), respectively:

A beautiful bowl of lucky tangerines.

Rice grains symbolize abundance, but the Eggplant in Garlic Sauce is included simply because it is one of my favorite dishes!  Most of the food came from a local Chinese restaurant, except for the Sesame Green Beans and the Baked Chinese New Year Cake.

Chinese Year of the Horse Menu:

Green Tea
Tray of Togetherness
Steamed Dumplings
Sesame Green Beans*
Shrimp Lo Mein
Eggplant with Garlic Sauce/Steamed Rice
Baked Chinese New Year Cake**/Tangerines

*Sesame Green Beans

8 oz. slender green beans (haricots verts), steamed (I use the microwaveable prepackaged type)
1 T. soy sauce
1/2 T. sesame oil
1 T. sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients and allow to marinate for at least an hour before serving at room temperature.  Serves 4.

Note: The ingredient amounts are all approximate, so increase or decrease anything to suit your own tastes -- I never use the same amounts twice!

**Baked Chinese New Year Cake

2 T. shredded sweetened coconut
4 large eggs
1 lb. sweet rice flour (about 3 C.)
3 C. whole milk
2 1/2 C. sugar
3 T. butter
1 tsp. coconut extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter; set aside.  

Place the coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until toasted and golden brown in color, about 5 minutes; set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Sprinkle with the toasted coconut, rotate the dish, and bake until the edges just start to brown and the top is just set (a bubble may form, but it will flatten as the cake cools), about 20 to 25 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes before serving. Wrap leftovers tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Serves 12.

新年快乐 (Xin Nian Kuai Le), or Happy New Year!


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